font-family: 'Arizonia', cursive; Michael Stichauf - "As I understand it now...'til it changes": How the "War On Drugs" has led to Mass Incarceration, Institutional Racism and Private Prisons-Part 3

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How the "War On Drugs" has led to Mass Incarceration, Institutional Racism and Private Prisons-Part 3

The "War On Drugs" has not only caused the resurgence of private prisons with it's mass incarcerations but it has totally changed the fabric of America's poor and lower class neighborhoods!

This is part 3 of my three-part series.

The Long-term Consequences of the "War On Drugs"

As we move through the fourth decade and on towards the fiftieth anniversary of the "War On Drugs", America has changed drastically. Of course, any country is going to be different after forty plus years of passing time. Unfortunately, for America, the most dramatic and the most devastating changes occurred as a result of the "War On Drugs"! Yet, most Americans have no idea that there is an out of control "Prison Industrial Complex" similar to the "Military Industrial Complex" that President Eisenhower warned us about. When you have a citizenry that doesn't know that an injustice exists, no one is going to do anything about it. No one calls their congressmen or senators to complain and, consequently, their representatives have no inspiration or reason to make any changes. The first way to explain just how the "War On Drugs" has changed the fabric of American society, one needs to start with the numbers.

The Numbers

As I stated earlier, at the start of Nixon's "War" in 1971, there were roughly 338,000 men and women incarcerated in America. Today, depending on which primary source you choose to use, there are between 2,200,000 to 2,300,000 people locked up. From the beginning of Nixon's "War" to today there has been an increase of 550% in the locked up population while the total adult U.S. population only increased 92%. Breaking it into two groups- Nixon's "War", from 1971 to 1985 and Reagan's "War", from 1985 to 2015 you get a much more specific view of the jump in the incarcerated population compared to the jump in the U.S. adult population. From 1971 to 1985 the U.S. adult population rose 45% while the incarcerated population jumped 118%. This is before Reagan's "Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986" (and the follow-up "Act of 1988") greatly increased the American justice system's powers to arrest and convict the already "stigmatized" Blacks, poor and disadvantaged. From 1985 to 2015, the U.S. adult population rose 32% while the incarceration rate leapt an astounding 200%! During Nixon's "War", which were the U.S.'s first baby steps towards starting to criminalize society's "unwanted" people, you can begin to see the effects of the new, aggressive policy meant to control a segment of the population that the new propaganda was telling us was dangerous to society. The divide, or the difference, between the percentage of the U.S. population increase and the percentage of the U.S. incarcerated population increase during the beginning years of the "War On Drugs" is a rather gradual difference. The chart above, although it's only a chart of the rise in the incarceration rate, shows a gradual increase through the segment marked as the "1970's" and halfway into the segment marked as the "1980's" (Nixon's years). In fact, the
rate of this rise is rather similar to the rate of the rise in the previous sixty to seventy years. But, as soon as the chart hits the middle of the "1980's" there is a tremendous upsurge in the rate of incarceration, all due to Reagan's "War On Drugs" and the enactment of the "Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1986" and the follow-up, "Anti Drug Abuse Act of 1988". As it stands now, aside from the more than 2,000,000 people who are locked up, there are more than 7,000,000 people who are under some sort of supervisory "control" in the U.S. today! That's an astounding number. What I mean by supervisory control is; an individual who is being monitored by an ankle bracelet as part of a probation or parole situation. Or, an individual who isn't hooked up to an ankle bracelet but is still having to report to a probation or parole officer on a regular basis.  That 7,000,000 people number is twice the number of slaves that were under bondage in the U.S. in 1850, the decade before the Civil War!

As astounding and almost inconceivable as the number 7,000,000 is, there is an even greater number that is more astounding... 65,000,000! After more than forty six years of the "War on Drugs" there are 65,000,000 people with records, mainly for only drugs, who are now "disenfranchised" individuals. They are "disenfranchised" because they are, in most states, not allowed to vote, not allowed to collect food stamps, prohibited from living in any form of public housing as well as ineligible to receive student loan money in order to try to better themselves so they can become productive members of society! If the unspoken goal of the "War On Drugs" was to "control" and keep down a certain segment of society, that number of 65,ooo,ooo people who are under "control" seems to indicate that the "unspoken" goal is being achieved!

Another set of numbers, though, is also a dominating reason why this policy of the "War On Drugs" will never end and that's the figures of how many people this run-away institution of jails and prisons employs. In all the research that I've done for this post, I wasn't able to come up with the rather simple figure of how many people the whole Corrections institution employs for both federal and state facilities. The rough numbers that I do have I had to extrapolate from ratios of prisoners to staff that I was able to find but the rough numbers will do to show you why this whole policy will never end. The rough numbers total about 350,000 staff and guards that are employed by both state and federal corrections institutions. Now, this number pales in comparison to the number of police officers across America that every single President since Richard Nixon has increased through their own promises to be just as tough, if not tougher, on crime than their predecessor. It is estimated that there are, roughly, 750,000 full-time police officers employed in the U.S. today. With one of the strongest unions in America, there's no way that number is going down. IF the "War On Drugs" is discontinued, the amount of citizens who end up out of a job, unemployed, would be political suicide. Forget about the fact that it's a, "taking the high road", morally correct decision! There isn't a politician out

there, right now, who has the political guts to make that decision! You'd think that, maybe, a President who is in their second term and who's political career is over when their term ends would have the guts to end the "War". But, if they are in their second term, they are considered "lame duck" Presidents anyways, without the political power to twist enough arms to get the change in policy and the repeal of laws through congress. Unfortunately, the political capital gained through funding the hiring of more law enforcement officers and prison staff, essentially lowering the unemployment rate, far outweighs the character needed to better the lives of the Black, poor and disadvantaged in America! Don't forget, a majority of these "throw-away" individuals can't vote anyways so why would a politician risk their political career for people who can't vote for them!

Here are some other numbers to look at to sum up this failed "War On Drugs";
  1. With a total population of roughly 309 million people in the United States, Whites make up about 72% while Blacks and Hispanics make up about 28%.
  2. Yet, while statistics show that all three groups use drugs at about the same rate, the numbers of individuals who are incarcerated for drugs is incredibly disproportionate. There are 1,785,000 Blacks and Hispanics locked up in America today compared to 275,000 White Americans. People of color are locked up 6.5 times more than Whites.
  3. In a 2002 study, of all the people who were sentenced under the crack cocaine mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines, 80% of them were Blacks thus, serving more time for drug offenses than White. Yet, over 65% of all crack users were White and Hispanic!
  4. Of males for all three racial groups, Blacks have a 32.2% chance of going to jail over the course of their lifetime while Hispanics have a 17.2% chance and Whites have a 5.9% chance! This means that 1 out of 3 Black males will be incarcerated in their lifetime.

Expanded Police Powers and Militarized Police Departments

Another consequence of the "War On Drugs" has been in the area of law enforcement. We've already determined that the goal of the "War On Drugs" wasn't, and isn't, a morally high road decision to help addicts and to stop the flow of drugs into America. It was, and is, a decision meant to criminalize a certain segment of the citizenry which the rich, white power structure has deemed as dangerous and of no value to society! Consequently, a majority of this "War" hinges on law enforcement and it's ability to do it's job to satisfy the ends through it's increased means. And, wow, how their means have increased!

To start with, over the years, through the passage of the two
"Anti Drug Abuse Acts" and a number of policy decisions, powers afforded to the police border on the infringement of the rights of individuals. For instance, for years, police have used the "cover" of stopping a vehicle for what they initially would "say" was a minor traffic stop when they really wanted to stop the vehicle for suspicion of drugs. Prior to a 1996 Supreme Court decision gave them the power to stop vehicles under these circumstances, they weren't allowed to do this. Before the Supreme Court decision, it was up to a Judge in the "probable cause" hearing, preceding a trial, to determine if the officers really were making up this "minor traffic stop" excuse for a defendant's rights to be protected. In a paper by the "National Center for Biotechnology Information" entitled, "War on Drugs Policing and Police Brutality", they explain how the Supreme Court lowered this burden for officers;
In Whren v US (1996) and Illinois v Wardlow (2000), the Supreme Court further lowered the threshold for a police stop.() Whren allowed officers to make “pretext stops,” that is, to stop someone for one violation when the officer’s true suspicion lay elsewhere (e.g., stop an individual for a minor traffic infraction when the officer’s true intent was to search the car for drugs).() In Wardlow, the court expanded the legitimate grounds for a stop by ruling that simply running from a police car was suspicious behavior that justified a police stop and search.()
Essentially, the Supreme Court now has made the burden of
"probable cause" to stop a vehicle or even a pedestrian a simple matter of an officer saying that the vehicle or pedestrian was "acting suspicious" which everyone knows is the catch-all phrase when the cops don't have a legitimate reason!

The Constitution was set-up to protect individuals from the power of the State. Other ways that the police infringe on an individual's rights are through practices such as warrantless searches, no knock military style raids which are a cause of many injuries and deaths, and entrapment style tactics by undercover officers who encourage individuals to commit crimes they may not have otherwise committed! While the State is the only entity allowed to use violence in certain situations, violence should only be used when violence needs to be stopped. These violent practices used by the police- no-knock warrants and raids have no place in these drug arrests when the violators haven't used violence in selling or using drugs! Many houses are "stormed" by the police during raids on houses where there isn't any drug selling going on but only drug using. When one individual is infringing upon another individual's rights through the means of violence then, and only then, should the State (the police) be allowed to use violence!

Community and Neighborhood Consequences of Mass Incarceration

  • 2,700,000 children in the U.S. are growing up with one or both parents incarcerated.
  • One in nine Black children, 1 in 28 Hispanic children and 1 in 57 White children have one parent incarcerated in the U.S. today.
  • One in 28 children in the U.S. have one parent incarcerated.

Mass incarceration is the result of the policies and laws enacted by the government in order to pursue their ends in the "War On Drugs". It is a system of security and control meant to stigmatize and punish the offenders. No matter how strong willed and mentally and emotionally tough an
SWAT on their daily, leisurely, "terror"
 stroll through the neighborhood. 
inmate may be, the effects of our corrections institutions are damaging and long-lasting, effectively causing long term damage to an inmate's psyche and how he feels about himself for a lifetime!

Other effects of mass incarceration, aside from what it does to the individual, are it's effects on families and whole communities. These effects are mentally, emotionally and physically damaging and they are a result of terroristic tactics used by the Government. The constant threat of militarized police department raids through no knock or warrant and warrantless raids keep a neighborhood in a permanent state of anxiety. These terroristic tactics are just another way for the State to "control" and "stigmatize" the people who they've deemed as dangerous to society! After decades of these terror tactics, permanent hostilities between the authorities who are mostly White and the victims, or the "terrorized", who are mostly Black and/or White and poor, have become deeply entrenched! If we want to better our race and class relations- relations between the police and the Black, the poor and the disadvantaged, these tactics need to stop and they begin with killing the "War On Drugs"! Without this happening, individuals and whole communities have no reason to expect that their Government will ever have any respect for them and, thus, this "divide" that's been active for decades has no end in sight.

For decades now, many families in these communities have suffered the loss of their fathers due to this "War". These fathers have been the chief bread winners in the families so, consequently, thousands of young males have had to grow up not only without the influence of a strong male but under great financial hardship. So many families have been raised by mothers who've had to try and hold down two jobs just to put food on the table and a roof over their family's heads. There are many situations where the mothers simply can't meet the needs of their families. Children go to school hungry and without the newest styles in clothing and end up becoming the focus of jeering and ridicule from their peers. Also, even though many communities and schools have makeshift help for families in financial straits, the mere fact that a family needs to rely on these forms of
Kids at after school lunch program
help further stigmatize the children causing even deeper feelings of low self-esteem and feelings of being different and less-than others. When the young boys get older they feel that because they are the males in their families it's their job to start bringing money in to help out. Because of the fact that highly in demand drugs are still illegal, it keeps their costs sky-high which, of course, brings huge profits to those who have the courage to sell them. Without the skills to go out and get a legal paying job, along with the fact that drugs bring huge profits, most of these males end up selling drugs. Yes, I know there are many children who grow up under these same circumstances who don't become drug dealers. Unfortunately, for the ones who do there are these reasons, caused by the "War On Drugs", to explain why.

Also, with this "War" approaching the end of it's fifth decade, we are now witnessing and have been witnessing for some time, the effects of two generations of families and communities whose male influences have been incarcerated and, literally, "missing in action" from the lives of their families and neighborhoods. We are now entering the third generation of Black youth who have, essentially, been raised by one parent- their mothers. In some instances, many of them have had both parents incarcerated and have been raised by grandmothers. These effects are devastating! This practice of mass incarceration, where communities are losing vast numbers of their important male figures, has a ripple effect throughout the communities- effectively damaging the socio-economic fabric with effects felt generationally!

The "War On Drugs" has caused what is now called, "intergenerational incarceration" where grandfathers, then fathers and finally their young male offspring have followed the same path into the "prison industrial complex" that America has created. They follow in this same path because of the unfortunate examples they've had over the years. When the only examples that a young male sees is his father, and perhaps many of the other male members of his family, practicing illegal ways of making money, he never develops the skills to achieve gainful employment. All he develops are the illegal skills that he's witnessed in his father and grandfather and possibly his uncles and in some cases, the female influences in his life, as well. In many instances, these boys are surrounded by these influences because, not only do they see them in their family, they see them in their community! What they see are the drug dealers, bucking "the system" by creating an underground economy of drug dealing because the regular economy has failed them and their community! These drug dealers become heroes in their communities because they buck "the system" of the white power structure and they have enough money to support their families. With drug dealers becoming the "Robin Hoods" and the people who others look up to in these communities a warped sense of identity becomes the norm. Many of these people who the others look up to have been to prison and, consequently, "doin' time" becomes a badge of honor to these easily influenced young males!

After forty plus years of this "War On Drugs", as well as the harsh economic conditions in the country taking many low-skilled jobs to other countries, the urban black and the poor white and disadvantaged neighborhoods become unstable environments for young impressionable males. When the normal economy fails a certain race or class of people they develop their own, underground economy. We've already talked about the drug economy and it's huge profits as a lure to young males looking to help their families. You also get those individuals who are walking around selling single cigarettes because people can't afford to buy themselves whole packs. There are also the enterprising street vendors who set themselves up on different street corners each day looking to sell anything from packages of socks to cheap t-shirts, whatever they can get their hands on to make a profit. When you start taking a large amount of the money making, male heads of families and locking them up, communities start to lose their purchasing power. When there isn't enough money for neighborhood residents to purchase at their own local stores, those stores dry up and go away. That neighborhood, then, becomes a desert with the only stores left in them being liquor stores. That isn't an ideal setting for a young male... or anyone for that matter.

So, the big picture looks atrocious! The white power structure decides that a whole race and class of people, the Blacks, the poor White, and the disadvantaged, need to be controlled and they come up with another form of the old caste system we used to know as Jim Crow-only this time it includes White people, as well. They stigmatize them with propaganda so that the rest of society become aware that they are dangerous and unwanted. Next, they enact laws giving the police the powers they need to make it easier for them to lock up these "throwaways". Millions of men end up doing lengthy prison time and when they come out, they lack the skills needed to resume a useful, productive life that would keep them from ending up back in prison. Also, when they come out, they face legal discrimination in the form of not being eligible for student loans, public housing and food assistance all due to the fact that they are now branded as felons. In many states, they also lose the right to vote which was at the heart of the old Jim Crow system that kept Blacks from having a voice in their own government. Consequently, the State has, again, made it extremely difficult for the Blacks, the poor and the disadvantaged to have any control over their lives through taking away their voting power to elect their own representatives who understand the problem that's occurring here!

The Future

The prospect for any kind of hope that something, anything, will change in order for things to get better is dismal. There need to be whole sale changes in the system and the theoretical concepts that drive it. The "War On Drugs" has proven to be a failure so we need to change the way we attack the problem. We've already proven that we are willing to fund a program if we feel that it's the correct solution to the problem. Now that we know that the current way of fighting the drug problem doesn't work, we should be able to simply transfer the money that we've spent on sustaining the prohibition style tactics into rehabilitation and education programs.

As things stand now, after decades of this oppressive treatment by the State, the victims have a built in identity problem. So many of the youth from these neighborhoods grow up thinking that it's just a fact of life that they will be going to prison at some time in their lives. What this does to an individual's psyche is devastating. Why would a youth, who expects to go to jail, want to put in the hard work that it takes to learn the skills to get and keep a minimum wage paying job when he can make outrageous amounts of money through selling drugs? Stressing education, whether it be setting up programs to help high school age youth get to college or technical training to get and keep highly skilled jobs must be the focus! Also, some form of economic investment type programs have to be set-up to spur economic growth in these neighborhoods. When you drive through the neighborhoods many of them are so bereft of any economic life that they seem like grave yards. These people need to have a reason to believe in the areas in which they live!

Over the last few years, some states have started to change the mandatory minimum sentences to reflect the non-violent crimes that they are imposed on. Other things need to change, as well. There needs to be an end to the legal form of discrimination that exists which exempts felons from food assistance, public housing and voting. We need to make it easier and not harder for an individual who is coming out of prison to get back on track and become regular members of society again. The stigma attached to an individual who has been to prison is just compounded when he can't feed or house his family.

To expand on this point, most people feel that it's supposed to be difficult when you get out of prison. After all, if it wasn't a little tough, it wouldn't have the deterrent factor that it's supposed to have. Well, there in lies the problem! All these people have no idea just how hard it is when an individual gets out of prison! The policy advisors and law makers, thinking they were protecting the rest of society from these felons once they were released, set up a further system of control through the parole system. When a felon, who has already done time, is released they are released into the parole system which is supposed to monitor the felon for a certain amount of time. While on parole, most felons have fines or fees that were incurred as a result of their conviction that must be paid back- restitution. If these fees and fines aren't paid back, the parolee most often is re-arrested and re-incarcerated. The system is set up for convicted felons to fail! Because of the legal discrimination that they suffer, it is virtually impossible for them to get a job. Without a job, there is no way for them to pay off their fines and they quickly find themselves back in jail! It is no wonder there are 7,000,000 individuals who are still under correctional control today. 

What Does This Say About Us as a Society? 

The founding fathers, afraid of putting the kind of power in the hands of the few, rich, powerful men in the country that were similar to the powers of the King of England, created a constitution where the power was supposed to reside in the hands of the "many". Yet, after scores of decades, the power is again in the hands of the few, rich, powerful men in the country. We find ourselves in this position because in order for someone to run for public office in this day and age, they need to be rich. Consequently, the remaining 99% find ourselves forced to vote for the 1% who can afford to run. And, although there are still supposed to be checks on the power of the State, that same very few, rich, powerful men have found a way to use the system to their advantage to control their political enemies and the people who they deem as dangerous to their very power! After the defeat of slavery and Reconstruction in the South threatened the White power structure, they had to find a way to control the Black population and they created the "Jim Crow" laws to keep Blacks as second class citizens. Then, as the old "Jim Crow" caste system was finally destroyed, the White power structure simply came up with another system, "The War On Drugs", to control the Blacks! Only this time they realized that they could toss in their political enemies which included the liberal Whites and the poor and disadvantaged.

The quote earlier in this post by Lord Acton states that judging how free a country is depends on the amount of security their minorities have. Well, when you digest the evidence that I've provided in this post, you'd have to come to the conclusion that America isn't a free country at all! "Land of the free, home of the brave" is one of our mottos but we aren't the land of the free when 7,000,000 people are either incarcerated or under correctional control. The United States has 5% of the world's population but it has 25% of the world's prison population! The U.S. locks people up at a higher rate than any other country in the world! What makes that statistic so sickening is that even the dictatorial countries of Cuba, Russia, Iran, and China don't lock their people up at such rates as the U.S.!

So what does this say about America? You know, I had to really wrestle with this one. I love my country! I also believe that criticizing my country in order to make it a better place is patriotic! When I look at these figures and examples that I've come across to write this post I've really come to believe that not all of America should be painted with the brush of racism because we have a White power structure who are for the most part, racist! Everyday, I come across many people who are the most compassionate people you'd ever want to meet. They are always willing to help someone in need. There are also many institutions, private ones for the most part, that are set up for compassionate works. No, not all of America is racist!

We really need to take a look at our system of government. The U.S. is supposed to be a representative style government but who is it representing? Definitely NOT the Black, the poor and the disadvantaged! As far as I can tell, our representative government only represents the white power structure which embodies it! Sure, maybe it helps the middle and upper classes to a certain extent. Abraham Lincoln's famous quote from the Gettysburg Address stating that America's government is one that's "... of the people, by the people and for the people..." yet, if that was the case, the small number of 535 Senators and Congressmen wouldn't be the only ones who would get to vote for our laws! I know that you can't have everybody who's a citizen vote whether or not to enact a law but some other form of representation needs to happen when a law comes up for a vote because I, and certainly many millions of others, do not trust our law makers!

Unfortunately, I don't know how to fix this last point. America, as a society, has become cocooned in our own little bubbles of belongings and comforts that we aren't aware, or just don't care, about anything outside of our little bubbles. Because of this, I would venture to say that unless someone has a relative who is, or has been, incarcerated, they have no idea of how messed up our justice system has gotten! Everyone who I've discussed this situation with had no clue that any of this was happening! Yet, they know that they are supposed to stay out of the Black neighborhoods and the poor White ones as well because they are the people who've been committing all the crime. The reason they know this... all the propaganda which has influenced they way they thing about "these people". And make no mistake, the propaganda has worked! Once you get a whole citizenry to hate a particular group, they end up not caring what happens to that group. With drugs already looked upon as a moral shortcoming instead of a disease, people started believing that when addicts and drug dealers were imprisoned it was their own fault! They believe that because they knew what the consequences were before they stated, they deserved whatever they got. In fact, most of the public never knew how draconian the sentences were and are! Because of the stigmatization through the propaganda, eventually the hate turns to indifference and the "hated" become a forgotten group. That's what has happened in America, now, after almost fifty years of the "War On Drugs"! The Blacks, the poor and the disadvantaged who are locked away in our cages have become a forgotten set of people who no one cares about! And ladies and gentlemen this problem isn't getting any better.

And that's, "As I Understand It Now... 'til It Changes".
Thank you for your time, Michael K. Stichauf.